PREMO v. MOORE
Randy Moore pled no-contest to felony murder in an Oregon trial court and sentenced to twenty-five years imprisonment. After exhausting his post- conviction state court remedies, Mr. Moore petitioned for habeas corpus relief in an Oregon federal district court. Mr. Moore argued that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to recognize that his taped confession was obtained unconstitutionally. The district court denied the petition.
On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed and granted the petition. The court held that Mr. Moore's counsel's failure to suppress Mr. Moore's confession was both constitutionally deficient and prejudicial under the standard set forth in Strickland v. Washington. The court was careful to note that even the state conceded the means by which the state elicited Mr. Moore's confession were unconstitutional because Mr. Moore's request for counsel had been ignored by the police.
Does a lawyer provide inadequate representation by failing to seek suppression of a client's confession before he pleads no contest to murder?
Legal provision: 28 U. S. C. §2254(d)
No. The court reversed the appeals court decision, holding that defense counsel was not ineffective and that Moore was not in any event prejudiced by his counsel's actions. Justice Anthony Kennedy authored the opinion for the court with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg filing a concurring opinion. Justice Elena Kagan did not participate in the consideration or decision of the case.
OPINION OF THE COURT
PREMO V. MOORE
562 U. S. ____ (2011)
SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
JEFF PREMO, SUPERINTENDENT, OREGON STATE PENITENTIARY, PETITIONER v. RANDY JOSEPH MOORE
on writ of certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the ninth circuit
[January 19, 2011]
Justice Kennedy delivered the opinion of the Court.
This case calls for determinations parallel in some respects to those discussed in today’s opinion in Harrington v. Richter, ante, p. ___. Here, as in Richter, the Court reviews a decision of the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit granting federal habeas corpus relief in a challenge to a state criminal conviction. Here, too, the case turns on the proper implementation of one of the stated premises for issuance of federal habeas corpus contained in 28 U. S. C. §2254(d), the instruction that federal habeas corpus relief may not be granted with respect to any claim a state court has adjudicated on the merits unless, among other exceptions, the state court’s decision denying relief involves “an unreasonable application” of “clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States.” And, as in Richter, the relevant clearly established law derives from Strickland v. Washington, 466 U. S. 668 (1984), which provides the standard for inadequate assistance of counsel under the Sixth Amendment. Richter involves a California conviction and addresses the adequacy of representation when counsel did not consult or use certain experts in pretrial preparation and at trial. The instant case involves an unrelated Oregon conviction and concerns the adequacy of representation in providing an assessment of a plea bargain without first seeking suppression of a confession assumed to have been improperly obtained.
On December 7, 1995, respondent Randy Moore and two confederates attacked Kenneth Rogers at his home and bloodied him before tying him with duct tape and throwing him in the trunk of a car. They drove into the Oregon countryside, where Moore shot Rogers in the temple, killing him.
Afterwards, Moore and one of his accomplices told two people—Moore’s brother and the accomplice’s girlfriend—about the crimes. According to Moore’s brother, Moore and his accomplice admitted:
“[T]o make an example and put some scare into Mr. Rogers …, they had blind-folded him [and] duct taped him and put him in the trunk of the car and took him out to a place that’s a little remote … . [T]heir intent was to leave him there and make him walk home … [Moore] had taken the revolver from Lonnie and at the time he had taken it, Mr. Rogers had slipped backwards on the mud and the gun discharged.” App. 157–158.
Moore and his accomplice repeated this account to the police. On the advice of counsel Moore agreed to plead no contest to felony murder in exchange for a sentence of 300 months, the minimum sentence allowed by law for the offense.
Moore later filed for postconviction relief in an Oregon state court, alleging that he had been denied his right to effective assistance of counsel. He complained that his lawyer had not filed a motion to suppress his confession to police in advance of the lawyer’s advice that Moore considered before accepting the plea offer. After an evidentiary hearing, the Oregon court concluded a “motion to suppress would have been fruitless” in light of the other admissible confession by Moore, to which two witnesses could testify. Id., at 140. As the court noted, Moore’s trial counsel explained why he did not move to exclude Moore’s confession to police:
“Mr. Moore and I discussed the possibility of filing a Motion to Suppress and concluded that it would be unavailing, because . . . he had previously made a full confession to his brother and to [his accomplice’s girlfriend], either one of whom could have been called as a witness at any time to repeat his confession in full detail.” Jordan Affidavit (Feb. 26, 1999), App. to Pet. for Cert. 70, ¶ 4.
Counsel added that he had made Moore aware of the possibility of being charged with aggravated murder, which carried a potential death sentence, as well as the possibility of a sentence of life imprisonment without parole. See Ore. Rev. Stat. §163.105(1)(a) (1995). The intense and serious abuse to the victim before the shooting might well have led the State to insist on a strong response. In light of these facts the Oregon court concluded Moore had not established ineffective assistance of counsel under Strickland.
Moore filed a petition for habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the District of Oregon, renewing his ineffective-assistance claim. The District Court denied the petition, finding sufficient evidence to support the Oregon court’s conclusion that suppression would not have made a difference.
A divided panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed. Moore v. Czerniak, 574 F. 3d 1092 (2009). In its view the state court’s conclusion that counsel’s action did not constitute ineffective assistance was an unreasonable application of clearly established law in light of Strickland and was contrary to Arizona v. Fulminante, 499 U. S. 279 (1991). Six judges dissented from denial of rehearing en banc. 574 F. 3d, at 1162.
We granted certiorari. 559 U. S. ___ (2010).
The statutory authority of federal courts to issue habeas corpus relief for persons in state custody is defined by 28 U. S. C. §2254, as amended by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA). The text of §2254(d) states:
“An application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court shall not be granted with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings unless the adjudication of the claim—
“(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or
“(2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.”
AEDPA prohibits federal habeas relief for any claim adjudicated on the merits in state court, unless one of the exceptions listed in §2254(d) obtains. Relevant here is §2254(d)(1)’s exception “permitting relitigation where the earlier state decision resulted from an ‘unreasonable application of’ clearly established federal law.” Richter, ante, at 11. The applicable federal law consists of the rules for determining when a criminal defendant has received inadequate representation as defined in Strickland.
To establish ineffective assistance of counsel “a defendant must show both deficient performance by counsel and prejudice.” Knowles v. Mirzayance, 556 U. S. ___, ___ (2009) (slip op., at 10). In addressing this standard and its relationship to AEDPA, the Court today in Richter, ante, at 14–16, gives the following explanation:
“To establish deficient performance, a person challenging a conviction must show that ‘counsel’s representation fell below an objective standard of rea-sonableness.’ [Strickland,] 466 U. S., at 688. A court considering a claim of ineffective assistance must apply a ‘strong presumption’ that counsel’s representation was within the ‘wide range’ of reasonable professional assistance. Id., at 689. The challenger’s burden is to show ‘that counsel made errors so serious that counsel was not functioning as the “counsel” guaranteed the defendant by the Sixth Amendment.’ Id., at 687.
“With respect to prejudice, a challenger must demonstrate ‘a reasonable probability that, but for counsel’s unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.’ …
“ ‘Surmounting Strickland’s high bar is never an easy task.’ Padilla v. Kentucky, 559 U. S. ___, ___ (2010) (slip op., at 14). An ineffective-assistance claim can function as a way to escape rules of waiver and forfeiture and raise issues not presented at trial [or in pretrial proceedings], and so the Strickland standard must be applied with scrupulous care, lest ‘intrusive post-trial inquiry’ threaten the integrity of the very adversary process the right to counsel is meant to serve. Strickland, 466 U. S., at 689–690. Even under de novo review, the standard for judging counsel’s representation is a most deferential one. Unlike a later reviewing court, the attorney observed the relevant proceedings, knew of materials outside the record, and interacted with the client, with opposing counsel, and with the judge. It is ‘all too tempting’ to ‘second-guess counsel’s assistance after conviction or adverse sentence.’ Id., at 689; see also Bell v. Cone, 535 U. S. 685, 702 (2002); Lockhart v. Fretwell, 506 U. S. 364, 372 (1993). The question is whether an attorney’s representation amounted to incompetence under ‘prevailing professional norms,’ not whether it deviated from best practices or most common custom. Strickland, 466 U. S., at 690.
“Establishing that a state court’s application of Strickland was unreasonable under §2254(d) is all the more difficult. The standards created by Strickland and §2254(d) are both ‘highly deferential,’ id., at 689; Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U. S. 320, 333, n. 7 (1997), and when the two apply in tandem, review is ‘doubly’ so, Knowles, 556 U. S., at ___ (slip op., at 11). The Strickland standard is a general one, so the range of reasonable applications is substantial. 556 U. S., at ___ (slip op., at 11). Federal habeas courts must guard against the danger of equating unreasonableness under Strickland with unreasonableness under §2254(d). When §2254(d) applies, the question is not whether counsel’s actions were reasonable. The question is whether there is any reasonable argument that counsel satisfied Strickland’s deferential standard.”
The question becomes whether Moore’s counsel provided ineffective assistance by failing to seek suppression of Moore’s confession to police before advising Moore regarding the plea. Finding that any “motion to suppress would have been fruitless,” the state postconviction court concluded that Moore had not received ineffective assistance of counsel. App. 140. The state court did not specify whether this was because there was no deficient performance under Strickland or because Moore suffered no Strickland prejudice, or both. To overcome the limitation imposed by § 2254(d), the Court of Appeals had to conclude that both findings would have involved an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law. See Richter, ante, at 19–20. In finding that this standard was met, the Court of Appeals erred, for the state-court decision was not an unreasonable application of either part of the Strickland rule.
The Court of Appeals was wrong to accord scant deference to counsel’s judgment, and doubly wrong to conclude it would have been unreasonable to find that the defense attorney qualified as counsel for Sixth Amendment purposes. Knowles, supra, at ––– (slip op., at 11); Strickland, 466 U. S., at 687. Counsel gave this explanation for his decision to discuss the plea bargain without first challenging Moore’s confession to the police: that suppression would serve little purpose in light of Moore’s other full and admissible confession, to which both his brother and his accomplice’s girlfriend could testify. The state court would not have been unreasonable to accept this explanation.
Counsel also justified his decision by asserting that any motion to suppress was likely to fail. Reviewing the reasonableness of that justification is complicated by the possibility that petitioner forfeited one argument that would have supported its position: The Court of Appeals assumed that a motion would have succeeded because the warden did not argue otherwise. Of course that is not the same as a concession that no competent attorney would think a motion to suppress would have failed, which is the relevant question under Strickland. See Kimmelman v. Morrison, 477 U. S. 365, 382 (1986); Richter, ante, at 19–20. It is unnecessary to consider whether counsel’s second justification was reasonable, however, since the first and independent explanation—that suppression would have been futile—confirms that his representation was adequate under Strickland, or at least that it would have been reasonable for the state court to reach that conclusion.
Acknowledging guilt and accepting responsibility by an early plea respond to certain basic premises in the law and its function. Those principles are eroded if a guilty plea is too easily set aside based on facts and circumstances not apparent to a competent attorney when actions and advice leading to the plea took place. Plea bargains are the result of complex negotiations suffused with uncertainty, and defense attorneys must make careful strategic choices in balancing opportunities and risks. The opportunities, of course, include pleading to a lesser charge and obtaining a lesser sentence, as compared with what might be the outcome not only at trial but also from a later plea offer if the case grows stronger and prosecutors find stiffened resolve. A risk, in addition to the obvious one of losing the chance for a defense verdict, is that an early plea bargain might come before the prosecution finds its case is getting weaker, not stronger. The State’s case can begin to fall apart as stories change, witnesses become unavailable, and new suspects are identified.
These considerations make strict adherence to the Strickland standard all the more essential when reviewing the choices an attorney made at the plea bargain stage. Failure to respect the latitude Strickland requires can create at least two problems in the plea context. First, the potential for the distortions and imbalance that can inhere in a hindsight perspective may become all too real. The art of negotiation is at least as nuanced as the art of trial advocacy and it presents questions farther removed from immediate judicial supervision. There are, moreover, special difficulties in evaluating the basis for counsel’s judgment: An attorney often has insights borne of past dealings with the same prosecutor or court, and the record at the pretrial stage is never as full as it is after a trial. In determining how searching and exacting their review must be, habeas courts must respect their limited role in determining whether there was manifest deficiency in light of information then available to counsel. Lockhart v. Fretwell, 506 U. S. 364, 372 (1993). AEDPA compounds the imperative of judicial caution.
Second, ineffective-assistance claims that lack necessary foundation may bring instability to the very process the inquiry seeks to protect. Strickland allows a defendant “to escape rules of waiver and forfeiture,” Richter, ante, at 15. Prosecutors must have assurance that a plea will not be undone years later because of infidelity to the requirements of AEDPA and the teachings of Strickland. The prospect that a plea deal will afterwards be unraveled when a court second-guesses counsel’s decisions while failing to accord the latitude Strickland mandates or disregarding the structure dictated by AEDPA could lead prosecutors to forgo plea bargains that would benefit defendants, a result favorable to no one.
Whether before, during, or after trial, when the Sixth Amendment applies, the formulation of the standard is the same: reasonable competence in representing the accused. Strickland, 466 U. S., at 688. In applying and defining this standard substantial deference must be accorded to counsel’s judgment. Id., at 689. But at different stages of the case that deference may be measured in different ways.
In the case of an early plea, neither the prosecution nor the defense may know with much certainty what course the case may take. It follows that each side, of necessity, risks consequences that may arise from contingencies or circumstances yet unperceived. The absence of a developed or an extensive record and the circumstance that neither the prosecution nor the defense case has been well defined create a particular risk that an after-the-fact assessment will run counter to the deference that must be accorded counsel’s judgment and perspective when the plea was negotiated, offered, and entered.
Prosecutors in the present case faced the cost of litigation and the risk of trying their case without Moore’s confession to the police. Moore’s counsel could reasonably believe that a swift plea bargain would allow Moore to take advantage of the State’s aversion to these hazards. And whenever cases involve multiple defendants, there is a chance that prosecutors might convince one defendant to testify against another in exchange for a better deal. Moore’s plea eliminated that possibility and ended an ongoing investigation. Delaying the plea for further proceedings would have given the State time to uncover additional incriminating evidence that could have formed the basis of a capital prosecution. It must be remem-bered, after all, that Moore’s claim that it was an accident when he shot the victim through the temple might be disbelieved.
It is not clear how the successful exclusion of the confession would have affected counsel’s strategic calculus. The prosecution had at its disposal two witnesses able to relate another confession. True, Moore’s brother and the girlfriend of his accomplice might have changed their accounts in a manner favorable to Moore. But the record before the state court reveals no reason to believe that either witness would violate the legal obligation to convey the content of Moore’s confession. And to the extent that his accomplice’s girlfriend had an ongoing interest in the matter, she might have been tempted to put more blame, not less, on Moore. Then, too, the accomplices themselves might have decided to implicate Moore to a greater extent than his own confession did, say by indicating that Moore shot the victim deliberately, not accidentally. All these possibilities are speculative. What counsel knew at the time was that the existence of the two witnesses to an additional confession posed a serious strategic concern.
Moore’s prospects at trial were thus anything but certain. Even now, he does not deny any involvement in the kidnaping and killing. In these circumstances, and with a potential capital charge lurking, Moore’s counsel made a reasonable choice to opt for a quick plea bargain. At the very least, the state court would not have been unreasonable to so conclude. Cf. Yarborough v. Alvarado, 541 U. S. 652, 664 (2004) (explaining that state courts enjoy “more leeway” under AEDPA in applying general standards).
The Court of Appeals’ contrary holding rests on a case that did not involve ineffective assistance of counsel: Arizona v. Fulminante, 499 U. S. 279 (1991). To reach that result, it transposed that case into a novel context; and novelty alone—at least insofar as it renders the relevant rule less than “clearly established”—provides a reason to reject it under AEDPA. See Yarborough, supra, at 666 (“Section 2254(d)(1) would be undermined if habeas courts introduced rules not clearly established under the guise of extensions to existing law …[, although c]ertain principles are fundamental enough that when new factual permutations arise, the necessity to apply the earlier rule will be beyond doubt”). And the transposition is improper even on its own terms. According to the Court of Appeals, “Fulminante stands for the proposition that the admission of an additional confession ordinarily reinforces and corroborates the others and is therefore prejudicial.” 574 F. 3d, at 1111. Based on that reading, the Court of Appeals held that the state court’s decision “was contrary to Fulminante.” Id., at 1102. But Fulminante may not be so incorporated into the Strickland performance inquiry.
A state-court adjudication of the performance of coun- sel under the Sixth Amendment cannot be “contrary to” Fulminante, for Fulminante—which involved the admission of an involuntary confession in violation of the Fifth Amendment—says nothing about the Strickland standard of effectiveness. See Bell v. Cone, 535 U. S. 685, 694 (2002) (“A federal habeas court may issue the writ under the ‘contrary to’ clause if the state court applies a rule different from the governing law set forth in our cases, or if it decides a case differently than we have done on a set of materially indistinguishable facts”). The Fulminante prejudice inquiry presumes a constitutional violation, whereas Strickland seeks to define one. The state court accepted counsel’s view that seeking to suppress Moore’s second confession would have been “fruitless.” It would not have been unreasonable to conclude that counsel could incorporate that view into his assessment of a plea offer, a subject with which Fulminante is in no way concerned.
A finding of constitutionally adequate performance under Strickland cannot be contrary to Fulminante. The state court likely reached the correct result under Strickland. And under §2254(d), that it reached a reasonable one is sufficient. See Richter, ante, at 19.
The Court of Appeals further concluded that it would have been unreasonable for the state postconviction court to have found no prejudice in counsel’s failure to suppress Moore’s confession to police. To prevail on prejudice before the state court Moore had to demonstrate “a reasonable probability that, but for counsel’s errors, he would not have pleaded guilty and would have insisted on going to trial.” Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U. S. 52, 59 (1985).
Deference to the state court’s prejudice determination is all the more significant in light of the uncertainty inherent in plea negotiations described above: The stakes for defendants are high, and many elect to limit risk by forgoing the right to assert their innocence. A defendant who accepts a plea bargain on counsel’s advice does not necessarily suffer prejudice when his counsel fails to seek suppression of evidence, even if it would be reversible error for the court to admit that evidence.
The state court here reasonably could have determined that Moore would have accepted the plea agreement even if his second confession had been ruled inadmissible. By the time the plea agreement cut short investigation of Moore’s crimes, the State’s case was already formidable and included two witnesses to an admissible confession. Had the prosecution continued to investigate, its case might well have become stronger. At the same time, Moore faced grave punishments. His decision to plead no contest allowed him to avoid a possible sentence of life without parole or death. The bargain counsel struck was thus a favorable one—the statutory minimum for the charged offense—and the decision to forgo a challenge to the confession may have been essential to securing that agreement.
Once again the Court of Appeals reached a contrary conclusion by pointing to Fulminante: “The state court’s finding that a motion to suppress a recorded confession to the police would have been ‘fruitless’ … was without question contrary to clearly established federal law as set forth in Fulminante.” 574 F. 3d, at 1112. And again there is no sense in which the state court’s finding could be contrary to Fulminante, for Fulminante says nothing about prejudice for Strickland purposes, nor does it contemplate prejudice in the plea bargain context.
The Court of Appeals appears to have treated Fulminante as a per se rule of prejudice, or something close to it, in all cases involving suppressible confessions. It is not. In Fulminante five Justices made the uncontroversial observation that many confessions are powerful evidence. See, e.g., 499 U. S., at 296. Fulminante’s prejudice analysis arose on direct review following an acknowledged constitutional error at trial. The State therefore had the burden of showing that it was “clear beyond a reasonable doubt that a rational jury would have found the defendant guilty absent the error.” Neder v. United States, 527 U. S. 1, 18 (1999) (paraphrasing Fulminante, supra). That standard cannot apply to determinations of whether inadequate assistance of counsel prejudiced a defendant who entered into a plea agreement. Many defendants reasonably enter plea agreements even though there is a significant probability—much more than a reasonable doubt—that they would be acquitted if they proceeded to trial. Thus, the question in the present case is not whether Moore was sure beyond a reasonable doubt that he would still be convicted if the extra confession were suppressed. It is whether Moore established the reasonable probability that he would not have entered his plea but for his counsel’s deficiency, Hill, supra, at 59, and more to the point, whether a state court’s decision to the contrary would be unreasonable.
To the extent Fulminante’s application of the harmless-error standard sheds any light on the present case, it suggests that the state court’s prejudice determination was reasonable. Fulminante found that an improperly admitted confession was not harmless under Chapman v. California, 386 U. S. 18 (1967) because the remaining evidence against the defendant was weak. The additional evidence consisted primarily of a second confession that Fulminante had made to the informant’s fiancée. But many of its details were not corroborated, the fiancée had not reported the confession for a long period of time, the State had indicated that both confessions were essential to its case, and the fiancée potentially “had a motive to lie.” 499 U. S., at 300. Moore’s plea agreement, by contrast, ended the government’s investigation well before trial, yet the evidence against Moore was strong. The accounts of Moore’s second confession to his brother and his accomplice’s girlfriend corroborated each other, were given to people without apparent reason to lie, and were reported without delay.
The State gave no indication that its felony-murder prosecution depended on the admission of the police confession, and Moore does not now deny that he kidnaped and killed Rogers. Given all this, an unconstitutional admission of Moore’s confession to police might well have been found harmless even on direct review if Moore had gone to trial after the denial of a suppression motion.
Other than for its discussion of the basic proposition that a confession is often powerful evidence, Fulminante is not relevant to the present case. The state postconviction court reasonably could have concluded that Moore was not prejudiced by counsel’s actions. Under AEDPA, that finding ends federal review. See Richter, ante, at 19.
Judge Berzon’s concurring opinion in the Court of Appeals does not provide a basis for issuance of the writ. The concurring opinion would have found the state court’s prejudice determination unreasonable in light of Kimmelman. It relied on Kimmelman to find that Moore suffered prejudice for Strickland purposes because there was a reasonable possibility that he would have obtained a better plea agreement but for his counsel’s errors. But Kimmelman concerned a conviction following a bench trial, so it did not establish, much less clearly establish, the appropriate standard for prejudice in cases involving plea bargains. See 477 U. S., at 389. That standard was established in Hill, which held that a defendant who enters a plea agreement must show “a reasonable probability that, but for counsel’s errors, he would not have pleaded guilty and would have insisted on going to trial.” 474 U. S., at 59. Moore’s failure to make that showing forecloses relief under AEDPA.
There are certain differences between inadequate assistance of counsel claims in cases where there was a full trial on the merits and those, like this one, where a plea was entered even before the prosecution decided upon all of the charges. A trial provides the full written record and factual background that serve to limit and clarify some of the choices counsel made. Still, hindsight cannot suffice for relief when counsel’s choices were reasonable and legitimate based on predictions of how the trial would proceed. See Richter, ante, at 18.
Hindsight and second guesses are also inappropriate, and often more so, where a plea has been entered without a full trial or, as in this case, even before the prosecution decided on the charges. The added uncertainty that results when there is no extended, formal record and no actual history to show how the charges have played out at trial works against the party alleging inadequate assistance. Counsel, too, faced that uncertainty. There is a most substantial burden on the claimant to show ineffective assistance. The plea process brings to the criminal justice system a stability and a certainty that must not be undermined by the prospect of collateral challenges in cases not only where witnesses and evidence have disappeared, but also in cases where witnesses and evidence were not presented in the first place. The substantial burden to show ineffective assistance of counsel, the burden the claimant must meet to avoid the plea, has not been met in this case.
The state postconviction court’s decision involved no unreasonable application of Supreme Court precedent. Because the Court of Appeals erred in finding otherwise, its judgment is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
It is so ordered.
Justice Kagan took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.
562 U. S. ____ (2011)
SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
JEFF PREMO, SUPERINTENDENT, OREGON STATE PENITENTIARY, PETITIONER v. RANDY JOSEPH MOORE
on writ of certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the ninth circuit
[January 19, 2011]
Justice Ginsburg, concurring in the judgment.
To prevail under the prejudice requirement of Strickland v. Washington, 466 U. S. 668, 694 (1984), a petitioner for federal habeas corpus relief must demonstrate “a reasonable probability that, but for counsel’s errors, he would not have pleaded guilty and would have insisted on going to trial,” Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U. S. 52, 59 (1985). As Moore’s counsel confirmed at oral argument, see Tr. of Oral Arg. 32, Moore never declared that, better informed, he would have resisted the plea bargain and opted for trial. For that reason, I concur in the Court’s judgment.
ORAL ARGUMENT OF GENERAL JOHN R. KROGER ON BEHALF OF THE PETITIONER
Chief Justice John G. Roberts: We will hear argument next this morning in Case 09-658, Premo v. Moore.
Mr. Kroger: Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:
The court of appeals held that Arizona v. Fulminante was the clearly established Federal law to control and govern the outcome of this case.
This was an error, because this Court has never applied Fulminante's direct appeal harmless error standard, which places the burden of proof on the government, to a collateral ineffective assistance of counsel claim, where the burden of proof is on the inmate.
In Boyer, unlike Fulminante, there is no trial transcript to review because the defendant pleaded no contest or guilty before trial.
The court of appeals' decision conflicts with both Strickland v. Washington and Hill v. Lockhart and will have grave negative consequences for our criminal justice system.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: But isn't -- isn't Fulminante relevant as -- just for the proposition that a defendant's own confession carries heavy weight, leaving the rest of it -- the statement that -- in Fulminante that when a defendant confesses to the crime, that carries heavy weight?
Mr. Kroger: Yes, Your Honor, I think it's relevant to that extent, that a confession from a defendant is significant evidence.
However, it certainly does not imply, as the court of appeals proceeded to do here, that it controls the prejudice prong of Strickland, that it sets a new standard of review of harmlessness, that it shifts the burden of proof onto the government, or that it limits the prejudice analysis to that question of the potential impact of the confession at trial.
And so for all those reasons, I -- I think the -- the court of appeals has gone well beyond any potential relevance of the Fulminante decision.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor: Is it -- if I am understanding your argument, it is that the Court erred in assuming that if the confession had been suppressed -- which you're not arguing for or against.
I'm assuming you are not taking your amicus's position that we have to get to the question of what would have happened in a motion to suppress -- but that under all circumstances, if there's a suppressible confession, a defendant should never plead guilty.
You are saying that that conclusion is what the Ninth Circuit drew and that was wrong?
Mr. Kroger: Your Honor, we're -- we are suggesting that the court was wrong both in stating Fulminante provided the standard of review, as well as holding that you can, in effect, assume prejudice simply because defense counsel failed to file a motion which defense counsel believed was not--
Justice Sonia Sotomayor: So it's another way of saying what I said, which is, no defendant should plead guilty if it's a suppressible confession?
Mr. Kroger: --That is correct, Your Honor.
That is correct, Your Honor.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor: All right.
So now, what is the other information that would have made a plain guilty in this case inevitable?
However, that's a higher standard than you need to meet, but--
Mr. Kroger: As -- as Your Honor noted, that is a much higher standard than we have to meet under Hill v. Lockhart.
There were very good reasons why defense counsel's advice to this defendant plead guilty was sound and reasonable advice.
First of all, the defendant faced a very strong government case, even at that stage of the investigation.
Second, there was a potential charge of aggravated murder that could be brought if the case were taken to the grand jury.
Third, the plea offer that was extended to the defendant and which the defendant took was very favorable to the defendant, both in terms of -- of capping the amount of time that the defendant would serve, as well as dismissing two additional mandatory minimum charges of assault and kidnapping.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor: --Were those higher than the minimum he pled to?
Were those mandatory minimums higher?
Mr. Kroger: --No, Your Honor, but they could have been run consecutive rather than concurrent.
I -- I think more significant is the fact that when the defendant himself testified about the reasons he pled guilty, none of the reasons he provided had anything to do with the strength of the government's case or the failure of counsel to file the motion.
What the defendant said motivated his guilty plea was a concern about an aggravated murder charge, a desire not to have to testify against his brother, which he believed would be the outcome of a guilty plea.
And those factors were in the defendant's mind when he decided to take the guilty plea.
So in this case, even if one were to shift the burden onto the government -- and I do not believe that -- that that is consistent with Strickland -- the government would prevail here.
This case raises, I think, significant consequences for application of Strickland and Hill v. Lockhart.
Strickland and Hill clearly place the burden of proof in a collateral proceeding on the inmate.
The court of appeals here shifted the burden of proof, pursuant to Fulminante, onto the government.
One can see this in the petition appendix at page 48 where the court states that there is not enough evidence in the record to prove that the defendant would have pled guilty had the confession been denied.
As I stated to Justice Sotomayor, I believe the government actually could meet that burden, but that is certainly not the burden that either Strickland or -- or Hill requires.
Second, the Court's application of Fulminante transforms the Hill v. Lockhart analysis.
It narrows it to one degree, because it's focused on one issue, what the government's evidence would be at trial, rather than looking at the broad array of issues which might motivate a defendant to plead guilty which the courts will look at under -- under Hill v. Lockhart.
For example, under Hill v. Lockhart the court will not only look at the defendant's testimony with respect to the estimate of the strength of the government's case, but also look at the potential for an additional sentence that is higher or additional charges that carry a higher sentence if the defendant proceeds with litigation rather than pleading guilty.
It will look at the investigation risk that additional evidence would be found in, if the case continued rather than terminating in an early plea.
And it will look at personal factors as the ones that were evident in this case that might motivate a guilty plea.
For those reasons, the Hill v. Lockhart standard encompasses a broader array of factors in determining whether there is prejudice than a simple application of Fulminante's direct appeal post-trial standards.
It is also the case that the application of Fulminante will substantially increase the amount of speculation which courts have to engage in compared with applying the proper Hill v. Lockhart test.
Hill v. Lockhart limits the amount of speculation by focusing on the defendant's motive in pleading guilty and whether the ineffective assistance could have influenced that decision to plead guilty.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: What about Judge Berzon's test, that seems to be simple and a matter of common sense, that if you get rid of the confession, then you have a better chance of getting a good deal in the plea bargain?
The confession certainly -- it -- this serves the defendant to get rid of that as well as weight on the prosecution's side.
Mr. Kroger: Your Honor, I would say two things: First, the test which is proposed by Judge Berzon in the concurrence has never been recognized or promulgated by this Court.
So in a collateral proceeding pursuant to 28 U.S. Code 2254, it would not be clearly established law that the State court was required to follow.
And second, application of that standard, as Judge Bybee noted in his concurrence, would require an immense amount of speculation.
In this case, the majority in the Ninth Circuit hypothesized that filing the motion to suppress the confession would strengthen the defendant's position in negotiation vis-a-vis the Government.
It is also very possible, however, that the Government would respond to filing a motion as opposed to taking an early offer of guilty plea by taking the case to the grand jury, seeking an aggravated murder charge, and thus, putting the defendant in a worse position in the case.
And, in fact, as Judge Bybee noted, he questioned whether the courts have the proper tools to be able to speculate years after the guilty plea whether a particular motion may have increased or may have decreased the amount of leverage that a defendant has, or what kind of response that that motion might have drawn from the prosecution.
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: But you have to, don't you?
I mean, what's the alternative?
I mean, imagine a case where it's clear there was a malpractice or an inadequate assistance, and it happened a long time ago and now you have to decide, well, was it prejudicial or not?
It's prejudicial if in the absence of that he would have gone to trial or wouldn't have pleaded guilty, or -- and what's the alternative to trying to figure out whether that's so?
Mr. Kroger: Your Honor--
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: It can't be the State always wins and it can't be the defendant always wins.
So -- so what's the alternative?
Mr. Kroger: --I think the alternative, Your Honor, is application of Hill v. Lockhart, which looks not at speculation about how this could or could not have affected the plea bargaining process, but looks very concretely at the defendant's pretrial decision-making process and examines the record to determine why the defendant pled guilty and whether they can prove with a reasonable probability that he would not have pled guilty--
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: Oh, but that is -- isn't that -- sorry, maybe we are just quibbling.
I -- I don't quite see it.
That would seem to me to be going into the plea bargaining process.
Would he have pleaded guilty, what would have happened?
Mr. Kroger: --I -- I think the difference, Your Honor, is that when you are applying Hill v. Lockhart, you almost always have at least three very concrete pieces evidence to show the defendant's state of mind.
You have the defendant's own testimony or deposition, or in this case both.
You have the trial counsel's affidavit for testimony about the decision-making process his client engaged in, and then you have the guilty plea colloquy itself.
So you always have a -- a concrete record that the court years later can review in order to determine what motivated the -- the decision to plead guilty.
If one were applying Judge Berzon's proposed alternative prejudice finding, one would have to engage in a great deal of speculation.
One would, I presume, have defense counsel and the government make claims about what they might have done in response to hypotheticals, which does not seem to be a -- a -- a reasonably judicable standard.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor: Without any confession -- forget about the brother or the girlfriend -- assume that there had been no confession, wouldn't it have been a fair conclusion to draw that without any confession whatsoever that the plea bargaining strength of the defendant in this case would have been appreciably higher and that the prosecutor would have had to offer something--
Mr. Kroger: --Your Honor, if none of -- none of the three confessions--
Justice Sonia Sotomayor: --None of the three--
MR. KROGER -- had been made.
I mean, if the brother's confession -- or the confession to the brother is a very big piece of why a plea would have been reasonable in this case.
Let's assume no confession.
Mr. Kroger: --Your Honor, I still think taking, recommending a guilty plea and taking of a guilty plea would be a rational response to the remaining evidence.
Even at this early stage in the proceeding, the police had uncovered certainly the body with the direct shot to the temple.
It had recovered the -- the murder weapon.
It had recovered the car which the defendants had borrowed and which had blood in the trunk where the victim had been locked and transported.
They had four witnesses who were present when the plan to kidnap and assault the victim was hatched.
So they would have testified very directly about the forming of the plot.
There was an eyewitness who identified the defendant, Mr. Moore, at the trailer where the victim was abducted.
And then, of course, there was a co-conspirator, Mr. Salyer, who was cooperating with the Government prior to the confession and whose -- whose cooperation was known to the defendant.
So, with all of those pieces, even if one stripped the three confessions out of the case, you would still have a situation where the Government 's case was strong, where there was a very severe risk the Government would go to the grand jury and obtain an aggravated murder charge, and where there was significant advantages to pleading early and locking in a lower sentence to a felony murder charge.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Mr. Kroger, from -- General Kroger -- from everything you said, and I take it -- from your brief, too, that you are not urging the -- that -- that counsel's assistance was adequate?
You are not contesting that the confession was involuntary?
You seem to be putting everything on the prejudice issue; is that right?
Mr. Kroger: No, Your Honor.
We -- we concede and forfeited the issue that the -- the motion to suppress would have been meritorious, but believed the district court got it right when it held that on both prongs of Strickland, both on deficient performance and on prejudice, the defendant has failed to make his -- his -- meet his burden of proof.
I think the -- the prejudice argument here is extraordinarily strong, but I think the deficient performance, even if one concedes that the motion would have been meritorious, the deficient performance prong is strong as well, because the defendant can't meet his burden of proof that defense counsel's representation was unreasonable, given the strength of the government's case, given the quality of the plea offer that was made, and given the defendant's own reasoning for why he pled guilty.
The case has significant practical consequences for the criminal justice system.
One is that if the Ninth Circuit's opinion stands, it will be much easier to challenge guilty pleas years after the fact on collateral challenge, and this will undercut the principle of finality.
One would certainly expect to see fewer Government plea offers in cases like this, if the Government believed years later it would have to present all of its trial evidence in a collateral proceeding in order to rebut the presumption under Fulminante that there was prejudice.
Second, it has severe implications for the freedom of defense counsel to exercise its discretion and represent its client using the wide latitude that Strickland recognized was necessary.
Strickland itself stated that it's a mistake to hem in defense counsel with strict rules about what should or should not be done, because defense counsel needs that wide latitude.
If there is a -- a virtual presumption that motions to suppress must be filed, even where defense counsel reasonably believes it will not resound to the advantage of his client and may cost the client a chance to plea early, the defense counsel must take that option, it's a severe restriction on the--
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: If -- if he had gone to trial, what's the sentence -- what's the range of sentence he could have gotten?
Mr. Kroger: --Your Honor, if he had gone to trial on the charges that were pending, and these -- these were not charges from the grand jury, he would have faced at least the mandatory minimum of 25 years that he pled guilty to, plus the potential of additional -- an additional sentence both on that charge perhaps as high as life, given the two other potential mandatory minimum sentences of -- of kidnapping and assault that could be brought.
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: And if they had gone back to the grand jury, as the prosecutor I guess could have done, it could have gone to the grand jury?
Mr. Kroger: This case pled guilty before, Your Honor, yes.
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: It could have gone to the grand jury.
Then what is the maximum he could have gotten?
Mr. Kroger: --It could have been a capital case, Your Honor.
This could have been an aggravated murder case because the facts involved a very severe beating to the extent perhaps of torture where a Defendant who was very vulnerable who had a protruding hernia that was in a truss was savagely beaten, his nose was broken, he was locked in the trunk of the car, taken to a remote location and shot in the temple with one shot of a revolver.
It is distinctly possible that the state would have come from the Grand Jury as a capital case and at the very least have been an aggravated murder carrying a life sentence, not a 25-year sentence.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: What about his argument that his failure -- the Defendant in the case arising out of this episode, if Salyer did go to trial and he ended up getting that exact same sentence that this Defendant did?
Mr. Kroger: Yes, Your Honor.
Mr. Salyer did receive the same sentence after he went to trial.
His case, though, was very different from that of the Petitioner, because the Petitioner was the individual who cocked the pistol and fired the round into the head of the victim killing him.
And so it is very unlikely that the other two co-conspirators would have found themselves charged with an intentional murder based on the facts of this case.
But because this pistol could only be fired if it were cocked and because the round went into the temple, it would have been a reasonably strong aggravated murder case against this Defendant who was the triggerman.
The final point I would like to make to the Court is that this case involves or should involve significant deference to the State court decision.
This was not a summary denial by the State court.
The State court held a hearing at which it received all testimony that was available.
It made very explicit findings of fact about the facts in the case.
It made a credibility finding about the evidence that had been submitted by the Petitioner, and it ruled after citing the proper Strickland standard that the Defendant had failed to carry his burden of proof.
Justice Anthony Kennedy: It's a little hard when we take away the finding that the confession was admissible.
We have to extract that.
Mr. Kroger: Your Honor, even if you--
Justice Anthony Kennedy: I'm not quite sure what to do with the State court's case, assuming we have to presume, because of the posture of the case, that the confession was inadmissible.
Mr. Kroger: --Your Honor, I would say two things with respect to that.
First of all, the State court's decision, even if it were incorrect in its ruling that the confession would not have been admissible, the State court's conclusion that the motion would not have assisted the Defendant in any way, the finding that it would have been fruitless because of the other confessions, the other two confessions in the case, is a reasonable decision that the Court made and is dispositive and thus under AEDPA should receive deference.
I would also suggest the case is somewhat similar to Yarborough v. Alvarado.
There was a custody issue at stake and this Court explicitly held that one might come out one way or the other on the custody issue, that reasonable jurists might split, but that that fact alone rendered the State court's opinion on voluntariness or on custody in that issue as reasonable.
And again, as here, though we are not asserting that this confession was admissible, should the Court consider it, it's clearly a close question on voluntariness and somewhat factually similar to Yarborough where even if the State court were was wrong, it was still a reasonable adjudication of the claims.
If there were no further questions from the Court, Your Honor, I would like to reserve the remainder of my time for rebuttal.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts: Thank you, counsel.
ORAL ARGUMENT OF STEVEN T. WAX ON BEHALF OF THE RESPONDENT
Mr. Wax: Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:
Mr. Moore established prejudice under Hill from his attorney's failure to recognize the involuntariness and inadmissibility of the lengthy tape recorded statement obtained from him by the police.
The most critical type of evidence that the State can have in any case.
The Ninth Circuit's conclusion to that effect was correct, and was correctly based on this Court's precedence of Strickland, Hill, and Kimmelman.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor: I am having a little bit of trouble here with your argument for the following reasons.
Assume we suppress the confession.
Why is it unreasonable for the defense attorney to have concluded that the evidence showing your client's presence at the shooting, and identification as the shooter, that it was solely that he should have gone to trial on a defense that he wasn't involved in the shooting at all.
Once you put him in this shooting, then the only issue he seems to be confused about is that he thinks that because it was accidental that that presents a defense to felony murder.
And that's clearly an erroneous position on his part.
So what made the case so weak that the Government was never going without the confession to prove felony murder?
Mr. Wax: Well, Your Honor, we believe that the case is not as the State would have it, a strong case in the absence of this confession.
We also believe that the proper focus is not solely on the strength of the State's case, and that under Hill it is necessary to look at the totality of the circumstances, and look for the objective factors in this record that inform the decision of what Mr. Moore would have done or would have been likely to have done in the absence of his counsel's mistakes.
Justice Samuel Alito: What does your office do in this situation, all right, a client is indicted in Federal court and you anticipate that there are all sorts of motions that you might make if this case is going to trial, but at an early point the prosecution offers you what looks like a really good plea bargain.
Now do you litigate all those motions?
If you have, you know, you have a chance of winning, of suppressing some statements that your client made, suppressing physical evidence, getting certain evidence excluded with a motion in limine, maybe you could win on a severance motion, do you think you litigate all those rather than grabbing a good plea deal when it's offered to you?
Mr. Wax: Your Honor, the answer is certainly no, we do not litigate all of the motions.
Justice Samuel Alito: So if you take the deal, then you want it later to be open to the Defendant if he's not, you know, after the Defendant has spent some time in jail, he's not too happy with the deal any more, he can now come back and say, well, the Federal public defender's office was ineffective because they could have moved to suppress my confession and the illegal search, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, that is all open for relitigation years later?
Mr. Wax: No, Your Honor.
Justice Samuel Alito: No?
Mr. Wax: And the issue here is not as we have attempted to articulate in our brief solely and in the abstract the failure to file the motion.
The problem is that Mr. Moore's attorney did not understand that the statement was suppressible.
In the situation that you are putting to me, if I or an assistant in my office says to a client, look, there is a strong motion to suppress the confession, the drugs, what have you, but here are other factors that we should look at.
And at the conclusion and with that proper advice the client decides I will take the deal, then I have performed effectively, and the case is not one that could be subject to a collateral attack as this case is.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor: What would have been the defense?
Mr. Wax: Excuse me, Your Honor.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor: What would have been the defense absent the confession?
You have one at trial on the confession, suppressing it, how would he have defended the this case?
Mr. Wax: Your Honor, he would have been able to defend this case first by articulating the Government's obligation to prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
You take out the confession and you posit it in your questioning of Attorney General Kroger that the strength of his brother's confession is a given.
We respectfully disagree.
The brother Raymond is a police--
Justice Sonia Sotomayor: What motive would his brother have had to put him at the scene of this shooting as the accidental killer?
That's all his brother would have had to say.
He was at the scene, he accidentally -- this gun went accidentally off.
Mr. Wax: --The brother is a police informant.
The brother describes himself in the deposition.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor: His brother had no pending charges against him at the time.
Mr. Wax: That is true, Your Honor, but the police had used them as their agent.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor: So what does that have to do with what interest does his brother have when he has no pending charges against him at the time, he's going to use this as a future chip in case he does something wrong?
Mr. Wax: Your Honor, the point is that he--
Justice Sonia Sotomayor: To put his brother into jail for 25 years?
This is illogical, counsel.
Mr. Wax: --If he were to appear and testify, which is one of the points that I believe the Ninth Circuit properly pointed out, that Mr. Moore knowing his brother might have had every confidence--
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: Might.
See, that's the trouble.
We have a lot of evidence, I think, here, at least by first glance, that -- a lot of evidence he shot the guy.
A lot of evidence he carried -- kidnapped him.
And now the -- now, maybe it was accidental, but if it was accidental, it's still felony murder; and he received through the plea bargaining the minimum sentence he could get for that.
You started out by saying that the -- the State court's conclusion that this was not prejudicial was clearly wrong.
If it's clearly wrong, what is it so clear, that he could get off if he went to trial?
Mr. Wax: --Your Honor, I will respond to the second part but I believe there is a premise in which you said, that we reject.
There is no State court finding under Hill.
And there is no deference--
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: There is no -- there is no State court finding that this was not prejudicial?
Mr. Wax: --The court never reached the Hill question.
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: I'm not talking about Hill.
I don't know the names of the cases associated.
I thought that the court in the State court said -- but I might be wrong; I'd like to know -- made a finding that one, this was not ineffective assistance of counsel and two, it was not prejudicial.
Mr. Wax: The State--
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: Now I haven't read this very thoroughly, so -- so you -- yet -- so you tell me if I'm wrong about that.
Mr. Wax: --At pages 205 and 206 in the appendix in the findings of fact and conclusions of law, there are 11 findings of fact.
In one of those findings of fact, in findings of fact 8 and 9, the State court used the word fruitless in describing the motion to suppress.
In the conclusions of law the State court solely addressed Strickland.
And nowhere in the analysis is there any reference to the question of what Mr. Moore would have done.
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: Doesn't Strickland require that it be prejudicial?
Mr. Wax: Yes, of course.
However, the analysis that was undertaken here never reached the question of what Mr. Moore would have done.
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: If I assume that the word "fruitless" and the reference to Strickland were a finding, that this is not prejudicial -- if I assume that for the sake of argument for the moment, what is it that you can show that shows it was prejudicial?
Mr. Wax: Your Honor, I think--
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: That was the same question I think Justice -- Justice Sotomayor started with.
Mr. Wax: --Your Honor, there is no question that the evidence with respect to the strength of the State's case includes the facts that the attorney general has identified.
There is also as we perceive it no question but that the objective record showed that the brother's testimony would have been highly impeachable based on his prior work as an informant, his description of himself--
Justice Sonia Sotomayor: Impeachable how?
What motive did he have to implicate his brother?
You still haven't answered that question.
All you keep saying is, he was a past cooperator, he had no pending charges, and now he has a motive to do this against his brother because of that?
Mr. Wax: --Your Honor, I cannot point in the record to a motive.
What I can point to is the fact that there is in the record his self-description of himself as the golden boy for the police, his working with the same detective who interrogated his brother years before when he completely avoided a murder charge.
And as a defense attorney, in a case involving a group of men who are not necessarily as socialized and well educated as some other group, that his testimony would have been subject to impeachment.
Justice Samuel Alito: Even without his testimony, isn't there a very strong case of kidnapping?
Let's just take it step-by-step.
What would have been the defense to the kidnapping charge?
Mr. Wax: The defense to the kidnapping charge in the absence of the confessions could well have been a mere presence defense, that Mr. Moore did not participate in the kidnapping.
He had every right to put the State to his -- to its burden of proof.
Justice Samuel Alito: He didn't -- that he didn't go to the -- to the victim's RV with the other men?
That would have been the defense?
Mr. Wax: He could certainly have argued that he did not participate in the kidnapping.
He's there, he's in the car, and he had no participation in it.
But what I believe is being missed in this discussion, if I may, is the focus on the question required to be analyzed in Hill.
Would Mr. Moore have gone to trial?
Would he have accepted the plea?
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: On this--
Mr. Wax: And on that there are highly--
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: --Mr. Wax, just to clear out some of the underbrush, the Ninth Circuit did say that Fulminante was really established law controlling this case.
I take it that you are not defending that?
Mr. Wax: --That is correct.
The clearly established law that governs here is Strickland, Hill and Kimmelman.
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: Okay.
I've got on the other -- I've got -- the other reason I asked the question, to be clear about it, is that -- is that he wouldn't have gone to trial in my mind unless he had a pretty good chance of getting a better deal.
And what he -- like getting off.
And what he got was the minimum.
One thing I've written down is that the State would not have the confession.
Number two is he could say his brother is not a very good brother.
Moreover he's a rather dubious character there, and bring all that -- stuff.
Was there anything else?
Mr. Wax: Yes, Your Honor.
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: I don't want to miss anything.
Mr. Wax: Yes, Your Honor.
What we have in this record is highly unusual combination of four facts appearing at three different stages in the proceeding.
First, from his attorney, who articulated this in the sentencing -- it's in the supplemental appendix at page 7: Mr. Moore had a very difficult time accepting the fact that this was a felony murder charge, or a felony murder offer.
That leads directly to the fact that Mr. Moore did not plead guilty.
This is only a nolo plea.
And while in some circumstances the court will equate a nolo plea with a plea of guilty, in these circumstances the fact that he entered a nolo plea only is highly significant on the question of whether or not he would have rolled the dice.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor: And a competent -- and a competent counsel is supposed to accept their irrational client, who doesn't want to understand the law, and let him risk getting an aggravated felony charge brought against him, or a capital murder charge brought against him, and not -- and just go ahead?
And try the case because he's not going to recommend to the client, go to trial, take the plea, because you're irrational?
Mr. Wax: Your Honor--
Justice Sonia Sotomayor: That's really what you are saying, that a competent attorney would not recommend to his client take the plea, and that his client wouldn't ultimately accept the plea, because the objective reality is his upside horrible and his downside is almost a given.
Mr. Wax: --Your Honor, a competent counsel might advise his counsel to accept a plea.
The question of the irrational client is however one with which I regrettably deal on a regular basis.
Clients do not always accept my advice, and for whatever it is worth in the footnote toward the end of his opinion, Judge Reinhardt responds to Judge Bybee by saying: Look, he may not be better off by pursuing this habeas corpus action; it is, however, his choice.
Justice Antonin Scalia: Yes, but Judge Reinhardt and the court of appeals did not in fact apply the test of Hill, which you are asserting.
The test is whether he would have gone to trial.
I -- I didn't read the opinion as ever saying that he would have gone to trial.
The opinion says he could have gotten a better deal.
That's quite a different -- quite a different question, and I -- I'm not prepared to make that the test.
Mr. Wax: Your Honor--
Justice Antonin Scalia: But it's not the test that -- that Hill prescribed.
Mr. Wax: --I am not advocating for the test articulated by Judge Berzon; I believe that it is a sound approach but it is not what we are advocating for here.
We believe that this record shows that Mr. Moore would have gone to trial.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Did he say that?
Is there a statement in the record that Moore said he would have insisted on going to trial had he been advised that the suppression motion had merit?
Mr. Wax: There is -- there is no direct statement to that effect.
In all the cases where we have found where there is such a direct statement, the courts almost always discount them.
What we have here, we submit, is something more significant, and that is he did not want to enter a plea.
He did not enter a plea, and then at the first opportunity that he learned that his attorney had been ineffective, he moved to undo the conviction.
And we submit that the decision in Roe v. Flores-Ortega, in which this Court found it highly significant that Flores-Ortega moved to initiate an appeal at the first opportunity that he learned that the appeal had been lost, is applicable here.
That is an objective fact that this Court has found relevant -- and--
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: That is an irrelevant question.
I don't see how we could go back to a possibly irrational state of mind.
I mean, don't -- when you're trying to figure out what a defendant would have done in the absence of an error in respect to a plea, don't you have to ask a question: What would a rational person have done.
I mean, I would say that's a good question.
I don't know the answer, but if we are trying to figure out he might have been totally irrational and would have gone to trial even though he was likely to end up in jail for life as opposed to 25 years, we should then reverse it and give him a trial?
I'm rather disturbed by that.
Mr. Wax: --Your Honor, I am not suggesting that the--
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: What do you actually think about this?
Mr. Wax: --I believe that Mr. Moore was making a reasoned judgment.
His codefendant brother who brought the gun to the scene, who by the confessions, is the one who pistol-whipped the victim, received the 10-year manslaughter sentence that Mr. Moore believed he should have obtained.
Mr. Salyer, who went to trial, received the same sentence that Mr. Moore received.
Mr. Moore's judgment that this should be viewed as an accident and that it was a highly mitigated situation--
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: I think you -- I think General Kroger brought up that Moore carried the gun.
It was cocked, and he shot -- who was it?
Mr. Wax: --Your Honor, the gun is brought to the scene -- and this is in the record -- by the codefendant, Lonnie Woolhiser.
He has the gun when he goes into the trailer and assaults Mr. Rogers.
What the district attorney said, the prosecutor on the scene who understood what was happening, the prosecutor's description at pages 227 and 228 of the appendix is: This is an accident.
The prosecutors states: They had no intent to kill.
The sole intent here was to put the fear of God into Mr. Rogers for his having ripped off his friend Mr. Salyer.
The prosecutor describes the incident on the hill as follows: That Mr. Woolhiser, with the gun, is pushing Mr. Rogers up the hill.
This is a wet and muddy Oregon day and a wet and muddy Oregon hill.
And Mr. Rogers and Mr. Woolhiser go down--
Justice Samuel Alito: Excuse me.
Where was the citation for this?
Mr. Wax: --Pages 227 and 228 in the appendix.
And he also reiterates the fact in the sentencing, which I believe is at -- at page 3 and 4, the sentencing proceeding in the--
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: They believe it.
The jury believes it was an accident.
Now, how does that get him a lighter sentence?
Mr. Wax: --If he goes to trial, the likelihood, first, of a death penalty needs to be put off the table.
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: No.
The sentence is 25 years mandatory for felony murder.
Now, the jury believes just what you said.
It believes it was an accident; he never intended to pull the trigger.
How does that get him a lighter sentence?
That's my question.
Mr. Wax: If he is convicted solely of the kidnapping, if he is convicted of an assault, he can receive a lighter sentence.
If he is convicted of the felony murder, to be sure the mandatory--
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: Isn't kidnapping a felony?
Mr. Wax: --Yes.
But if he--
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: Well, then, if he is kidnapped -- if he is convicted of the kidnapping and there was an accidental murder that took place, I believe that that would be felony murder.
Mr. Wax: --If the jury finds him guilty of that, his sentence will--
Justice Stephen G. Breyer: Yes.
And the defense to kidnapping was what?
Mr. Wax: --Mere presence.
He could have argued a mere presence defense.
In the absence--
Justice Sonia Sotomayor: But four witnesses put him at the scene to kidnap this guy and scare him to death.
Or scare him.
Mr. Wax: --Well, Your Honor, the record shows there was one witness who put him at the scene.
The record shows that one of the issues that was previously raised, and that in our winnowing of the issues is not currently before this Court, is a challenge to the admissibility of the eyewitness identification at the Rogers trailer.
One witness there only, and that would be subject to challenge, and does not put him into the trailer or participating in the kidnapping or the assault.
Justice Antonin Scalia: Mr. Wax, as far as the confession is concerned and its excludability, what effect do you think we ought to give to this passage in the -- in the defendant's agreement to the plea:
"I understand that any admissions, statements, or confessions which I may have made or any evidence obtained by virtue of the search and seizure of my property may well be inadmissible against me in evidence, unless my constitutional rights have been safeguarded. "
"I understand that if I would like to speak to an attorney concerning my constitutional rights, that the Court will grant me time for that purpose. "
Mr. Wax: I believe you should give no credit to that, because that statement by Mr. Moore is based on the incorrect advice of his attorney.
And we believe that the record here--
Justice Antonin Scalia: Well, wait.
This is not the attorney speaking.
I mean, this is what he said.
"I understand that any admissions, statements or confessions which I have made may well be -- may well be inadmissible against me in evidence. "
Mr. Wax: --Your Honor, he had previously been told by his attorney that they were not.
And when he was questioned in the post-conviction proceeding before the point of the prejudice under Hill, he says: I acted and entered this nolo plea on the advice of counsel.
Now, to be sure there is a boilerplate statement to the contrary.
Justice Antonin Scalia: Well, boilerplate -- I mean, the man signed it.
How can a prosecutor ever protect himself against the person who signs a plea agreement later -- later coming in and saying: Oh, my attorney misadvised me.
I don't care what your attorney advised you.
The plea agreement itself advises you that this stuff may be inadmissible.
Mr. Wax: Your Honor, what Mr. Moore has said is: I enter this plea on the advice of my attorney.
That advice is conceded by the State to have been incorrect, and the full record of the case includes that plea petition document.
It includes the State's concession that the advice provided was incorrect.
And while a plea petition form is standard in many State courts, as it is in the Federal court, the reality is that those forms often include statements that are not consistent with the facts that have been presented or that have occurred previously.
Justice Samuel Alito: Could I just clarify something?
Is it your position that the prosecutor, in making his offer of proof at the plea on 227 to 228, affirmatively said that this was an accident or did not -- did not allege that it was intentional?
Mr. Wax: He affirmatively states that there was no intent to kill.
Justice Samuel Alito: Where is that?
Mr. Wax: I believe it's on page 228, where he comes back in and says one more thing.
It is on 228.
And just something that I missed early on:
"The indicated intent of the defendant was to instill fear to the point that the victim would not again rip them off. "
Justice Samuel Alito: --You read that as a -- as a claim that there was no intent to kill?
Mr. Wax: --Yes, sir.
And I believe it is also consistent with the statement of the judge at the sentencing, who described this as a case involving two tragedies.
Everyone who participated -- the lawyers for the defendants, the prosecutor, and the judge -- recognized this was an accident.
This was a tragedy.
The judge saying, Mr. Moore, the person who had led a good, law-abiding life, a person who had been a productive member of--
Justice Samuel Alito: I have to say, I think that's a very aggressive reading of what was said here.
It was not necessary for the plea to this offense to prove an intent to kill, and the statement that the intent that was necessary, which is lesser intent but sufficient to support this plea, was present is not a statement that a greater mens rea was absent.
And I thought you argued to us that the prosecutor said this was not intentional.
It was an accident.
Mr. Wax: --Well, I believe, Your Honor, that is the portion to the record to which I am referring at page 228.
He also described at the sentencing the facts of the case as facts involving and consistent with the slip and the fall.
His description of the incident is a description of Mr. Rogers falling back into the gun.
He did that both at the plea, which I believe is on page 227, and he did it again at the sentencing.
And then he is followed by the judge, who articulates the circumstances of this case as involving two tragedies: To be sure, the death of Mr. Rogers, but also the tragedy of Mr. Moore having accidentally killed his friend.
If there are no further questions, I thank the Court.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts: Thank you, counsel.
General Kroger, you have eight minutes remaining.
REBUTTAL ARGUMENT OF GENERAL JOHN R. KROGER ON BEHALF OF THE PETITIONER
Mr. Kroger: Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:
The Court of Appeals here did not apply clearly established Federal law, but applied, for the first time in a way that is non-mandated by the decisions of this Court, Fulminante to a collateral proceeding.
The State court's adjudication of this claim was eminently reasonable on both prongs of Strickland.
Accordingly, we would ask this Court to reverse the judgment of the Ninth Circuit and to affirm the judgment of the district court.
I would be happy to answer any additional questions that the Court may have.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts: Thank you, counsel.
Counsel, the case is submitted.
Justice Kennedy: The second case to be announced is Premo versus Moore, Number 09-658.
Moore was found guilty of murder in an Oregon state court.
And this case calls for determinations that are parallel in some respects to those just discussed in Harrington versus Richter.
Particularly, it involves an allegation of ineffective assistance of counsel.
Richter, the case just discussed involved an allegation that the defense counsel in the conduct and preparation of the trial was -- was deficient.
This case concerns Moore's claim that his counsel was deficient during pretrial negotiations that led to a plea agreement.
There was never a trial.
There was a plea agreement of plea of guilty.
Randy Moore kidnapped a man in Oregon and killed him with a single shot to the head.
He admitted the killing of two people and then confessed to the police.
He said the gun's discharge was accidental.
He pled no contest to felony murder.
And after that, no contest plea, he was found guilty by the trial judge.
He received the 25-year sentence, which was the minimum allowed under Oregon law.
Later, he sought postconviction relief from an Oregon court.
He argued that his attorney was ineffective.
He said that his counsel should have moved to suppress the confessions before Moore made the plea agreement.
The Oregon court rejected the claim.
It concluded that suppression would have been fruitless because Moore had also confessed to two other people.
The District Court denied Moore's subsequent petition for federal habeas corpus but the Court of Appeals reversed.
The Court of Appeals was wrong to accord scant deference to counsel's judgment.
And it was doubly wrong to conclude that it would have been unreasonable for the state court to find that the defense attorney provided effective assistance.
Acknowledging guilt and accepting responsibility by an early plea respond to certain basic premises in the law and its function.
Those principles are eroded if a guilty plea is too easily set aside based on facts and circumstances not apparent to counsel at the time of plea is being considered.
Plea bargains are the result of complex negotiations, and defense attorneys must make careful strategic choices in balancing the opportunities and the risks.
The opportunity -- opportunities, of course, include pleading to a lesser charge and obtaining a lesser sentence, as compared with what might be the outcome, not only at trial but from a later plea offer if the case grows stronger and the prosecutors find stiffened resolve.
A risk, in addition to the obvious one of losing the chance for a defense verdict, is that an early plea might come before the prosecution finds its case is getting weaker, not stronger.
The State's case can begin to fall apart as stories change and witnesses become unavailable, and new suspects are identified.
Moore's counsel could reasonably believe that a swift plea bargain would allow his client to take advantages of the State's aversion to these hazards.
A plea would also eliminate the possibility that one of Moore's accomplices would testify against him in exchange for a better deal for themselves.
And delaying the plea for further proceedings would have given the State time to uncover additional incriminating evidence that could have formed the basis of a capital prosecution.
The judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed.
The case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with the Court's opinion.
Justice Ginsburg has filed an opinion concurring in the judgment.
Justice Kagan took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.